Perhaps the NFC West has never seen a season anything like 2022. Maybe no division at all has been this unpredictable at the game’s most important position. The NFC West has been a quarterback carousel that nobody could predict.
With Matthew Stafford set to return to the Los Angeles Rams in 2023, he could actually be the current quarterback in the division who has the highest odds of starting the most games for his team next season. Even higher odds than Kyler Murray and Geno Smith.
Then again, Baker Mayfield’s most recent outing gives L.A. an interesting fallback option should they convince him to return as a backup and if injuries force Stafford to miss more time in 2023. Where else are the moving parts in the division and what we can expect next year...even if only thing to expect is the unexpected?
Los Angeles Rams
Head coach: Sean McVay
Starting QB: Matthew Stafford
First draft pick: Early 2nd round
Biggest free agents: QB Baker Mayfield, G David Edwards, DT Greg Gaines, DT A’Shawn Robinson, K Matt Gay
Total 2023 salary cap liabilities: $226.6m
Much will hinge on whether or not the Rams would actually entertain trade offers for any of their star players, like Aaron Donald or Jalen Ramsey, and if the team could part ways with Leonard Floyd, Allen Robinson, or Joseph Noteboom.
By all accounts, the 2022 Rams didn’t enter the season much worse off than the 2021 Rams. And the 2023 Rams shouldn’t look that much different than the 2022 Rams. So I don’t see any reason why the 2023 Rams shouldn’t be able to compete for the Super Bowl. With McVay, Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Donald, Ramsey and free spending ownership, I have to think that L.A. is in good position to compete for the playoffs next season. They should even look at least a little bit better than they did entering 2022.
As we should all know by now, limited cap space is an illusion. In only a few steps I can trade Joe Noteboom, cut Floyd with a post-June 1 designation, and restructure Kupp and suddenly there’s $37 million more cap space available to spend for next season with those three moves alone. Disagree with any of those moves? I’m just picking three options, there are plenty more than those.
The Rams are 5-10 right now. They could be 10-7 or better almost immediately and we shouldn’t expect any movement at head coach or quarterback.
Head coach: Pete Carroll
Starting QB: Geno Smith
First pick: Third overall (via Broncos), 12th overall
Biggest free agents: QB Geno Smith, LB Cody Barton, DT Poona Ford, K Jason Myers, RB Rashaad Penny
Total 2023 salary cap liabilities: $174.4 million
Despite a 6-3 start, Carroll’s job could be in jeopardy if the Seahawks lose their last two games, including Week 18 against the Rams. Seattle wasn’t expected to be good, but losing seven of their last eight games would be a brutal way to enter the offseason and the lowest morale has ever been during the Carroll era. That being said, there is no clear owner of the Seahawks and perhaps nobody with more power than Pete Carroll, so he might need to step away on his own, which also isn’t impossible.
And even though Geno Smith is the most surprising Pro Bowl quarterback ever, he was much better in the first half of the season than in the last two months and the Seahawks may decide to let him hit free agency or trade him after applying the franchise tag. If Pete is in charge, then paying big bucks to a quarterback isn’t usually his preference, hence why the team traded Russell Wilson in 2022 and only paid Geno a $3.5 million guarantee.
I’m not convinced that Geno Smith is the first option to be Seattle’s Week 1 quarterback and the team might even decide to re-sign Drew Lock instead at a much lower price. With Denver’s first and second round picks, including a top-three selection, the Seahawks might draft a franchise quarterback into the division for the first time since Trey Lance in 2021 and Kyler Murray in 2019.
What the Seahawks do have is a ton of cap space (roughly $53 million before cuts) and several obvious cap casualties, such as guard Gabe Jackson, if not also safety Quandre Diggs and defensive end Shelby Harris.
Seattle may not look the same in 2023.
Head coach: Kliff Kingsbury
Starting QB: Kyler Murray
First pick: Fourth overall
Biggest free agents: DL J.J. Watt, CB Byron Murphy, DL Zach Allen, K Matt Prater, QB Trace McSorley, WR A.J. Green
Total 2023 salary cap liabilities: $204 million
How could Kliff Kingsbury possibly be Arizona’s head coach again in 2023? Are the Cardinals really that committed to making the “air raid offense” work with Murray? Surely by now the Cards realize that basically every offensive coach is running something akin to an air raid by now and most of them are much better head coaches than Kingsbury.
The Cardinals seem to be the NFC West team most likely to have a new head coach and options will range from Byron Leftwich to Dan Quinn.
What Arizona does have is a pick likely to be in the top-six or so and a reasonably talented roster with DeAndre Hopkins, D.J. Humphries, Budda Baker, Marco Wilson, Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins, Leki Fotu, James Conner, Marquise Brown, Zach Ertz. Now can they convince a good head coach and good players to come join them after 100+ years of failure?
If Arizona has the number four pick in the draft, look for maybe edge rusher Will Anderson or defensive tackle Jalen Carter to come to the NFC West. Both are also targets for the Seattle Seahawks.
San Francisco 49ers
Head coach: Kyle Shanahan
Starting QB: Brock Purdy
First pick: Third round compensatory range
Biggest free agents: DB Jimmie Ward, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RT Mike McGlinchey, OL Dan Brunskill, OLB Samson Ebukam, CB Emmanuel Moseley, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, C Jake Brendel, K Robbie Gould
Total 2023 salary cap liabilities: $216.6
Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Brock Purdy? Nobody in the world can answer that today. Jimmy is a free agent and a return this time would be much more shocking than it was this past August. Lance could also end up on the trade block. Keeping Purdy seems like an inevitability because he’s just too valuable as a cheap seventh round pick.
A lot is made about San Francisco’s “upcoming cap nightmare” but most teams would kill to have their issues of having too many stars. The 49ers could restructure Trent Williams or Fred Warner or George Kittle, extend Nick Bosa, and even if they run into worse issues in 2024 or 2025, the team should still be talented for the next 2-3 years.
Especially if the 49ers breakthrough to the Super Bowl this year and get more veterans to come to San Francisco for cheap because they want to win a Super Bowl. One key here will be the quarterback position and how Purdy responds to the next two games+playoffs, but having Purdy and Lance for 2023 is still huge cost savings should they play well.
However, the 49ers have traded their 2023 first, second, and third round picks, so no, they won’t be bringing in any cheap cost-controlled rookies with those selections next year and Shanahan has proven in the past that the 49ers are perfectly capable of falling apart under his watch.